Microsoft has announced its first ARM desktop PC in the form of a developer kit it calls “Project Volterra.” It’s a small Mac mini-style desktop designed to help developers build apps that harness the power of AI using a built-in neural processing unit (NPU) built by Qualcomm.
According to my sources, the device was codenamed Black Rock and has been under development internally at Microsoft since last summer. Built by the Surface team in collaboration with Qualcomm, the product will be the first Windows on ARM developer kit to come with a flagship Snapdragon SoC.
Microsoft will share more about Project Volterra in the coming months. In the meantime, here’s everything we know so far! We will continue to update this post as new information becomes available.
Project Volterra: Price & Availability
Microsoft has not yet revealed exact pricing or availability details for Project Volterra. However, we do know that the company originally planned to begin shipping the product at Build, but was unable to do so for undisclosed reasons.
A likely explanation for the slowdown can be found in the continued shortage of components, which seems to have influenced the launch of other Snapdragon 8cx Gen3 products like the Lenovo ThinkPad X13s, which should be shipped soon. With that in mind, we suspect Project Volterra will ship later this summer.
Microsoft hasn’t provided any pricing information either, but we can assume it will be below $1000. Unlike other flagship Windows on ARM devices on the market, Project Volterra is a barebones mini PC, meaning it comes without a display, keyboard, or trackpad. It is also made of plastic rather than a more premium material. This should hopefully bring the price down, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Market availability is also a mystery, but given this is Microsoft, it’s likely that the device will only be sold in the United States at launch. Most of Microsoft’s previous new form factor products will initially launch in the US only, with availability in more markets at a later date.
Project Volterra: Ports and Specifications
Microsoft has not provided official information about the specifications you will find inside Project Volterra. However, Windows Central understands that the device will come with a flagship processor from Qualcomm, likely one based on the Snapdragon 8cx Gen3, as Qualcomm’s next-generation NUVIA chips won’t be ready for production until next year.
It’s unclear if Microsoft plans to advertise the chip as a Snapdragon 8cx Gen3, or if Microsoft made changes to the SoC that would cause them to label it as “Microsoft SQ3” instead. The company may want to keep its “SQ” chip branding for its flagship Surface Pro X line.
Microsoft has also revealed that the product will have a fan inside, which will help keep the SoC cool and reduce throttling. Adding a fan allows Microsoft to squeeze more power out of the processor because you are no longer thermally limited by a fanless design, as seen on most other Windows on ARM devices.
As for ports, we know that the device has three USB-A ports, a mini DisplayPort and an Ethernet connection on the back of the device, and two USB-C ports on the left. Of course, the device comes with Windows 11 preloaded, although we don’t know yet whether that will be from the “Home” or “Pro” variant. Since this is a developer kit, let’s assume it comes with Windows 11 Pro.
Project Volterra: Design and Features
According to sources familiar with the product, Project Volterra was built by Microsoft’s Surface team in conjunction with Qualcomm. It’s a PC in a mini desktop form factor, similar to that of a Mac mini. It features ports on both the back and left side of the device and an LED status indicator on the front.
The device itself is housed in a black recycled ocean plastic, a material similar to that used in the Microsoft Ocean Plastic mouse. There are four rubber feet on the bottom and an engraved Microsoft logo on the top. On the inside, Microsoft says the product has a built-in neural processing unit designed to help developers harness the power of AI in their applications.
The NPU allows developers to take advantage of features such as vision correction, background blur, voice clarity, and much more in their apps. Transferring these functions to a dedicated NPU allows the main processor to focus on driving other app functionalities, keeping things running fast.
Microsoft says Project Volterra’s design makes it possible to stack multiple devices on top of each other, useful for developers who need to run multiple tests at once, or for deployment in a server rack environment.
The company does not advertise Project Volterra as a universal consumer desktop PC. It is a product designed and built specifically for developers who build applications using AI and Windows on ARM. That said, there’s nothing stopping you as a consumer from buying one and using it as a regular PC if you want to.
Microsoft has also announced that the tool-chain that developers can use will be Arm-native on Project Volterra. That includes everything from Visual Studio 2022 to .NET 6 and Java. Here is the list of Arm native developer tools on Project Vortella:
- Visual Studio 2022
- Visual Studio Code
- Visual C++
- Modern .NET 6 and Java
- Classic .NET Framework
- Windows terminal
- Windows Subsystem for Linux
- Windows Subsystem for Android
#Project #Volterra #Microsofts #ARM #developer #kit